Democratic candidate for governor Letitia James unveiled a multi-point plan for how she would address the COVID-19 pandemic, pledging to use the state's buying power for more home testing kits, expanding outreach outside major cities and offer $200 to vaccine holdouts to get their shots.
At the same time, James walked up to the line of criticizing her rival for the party's nomination, Gov. Kathy Hochul, by blaming "state government" for the current rise in COVID cases in parts of the state.
It was the first time the James campaign wade into the specifics of what she would do as governor as the unsettled field for the Democratic nomination has added New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in the last week. Williams, like James, is a Brooklyn resident.
It's unknown if COVID will continue to be a dominant factor in the lives of New Yorkers a year from now, much less in June, when voters will select major party nominees. But the statements by the James campaign are a potential test of how potent the issue will be for Democratic voters nearly two years into the public health crisis.
And James, the state's attorney general since 2019, pointedly blamed the state for the rise in COVID cases in the last several days without mentioning Hochul's name.
"State government is failing to act to address the COVID crisis in some of the most vulnerable communities in New York state - this past week, the 7-day average percentage of positive test results increased from 8.87% to 9.48% in Western NY," her campaign said in a statement released on Saturday. "Rates are also above 8% in the Finger Lakes. It is especially troubling that even with widespread vaccine availability, some regions like the Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, and Finger Lakes have hospitalization rates that exceed last year. It is time to act now to save lives. Anything short of bold action is unacceptable.”
A day later, James' campaign released an eight-point plan for the pandemic. She called for the state to lean on trusted community leaders to increase vaccination rates, "double down" on the outreach for booster shots, expand pop-up vaccination sites and strengthen enforcement at nursing homes in New York.
Hochul, who took office Aug. 24, does not have the same power to oversee the pandemic as her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. She has pushed to expand vaccination efforts at schools as children have become eligible while also in the last week called on more people get booster shots ahead of the holidays.
Hochul's efforts were defended by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, an ally of the governor.
"The Governor and I spoke about WNY's COVID cases last night and what to do, after being with her Tuesday on this topic," he wrote on Twitter. "I also spoke to NYS operations director Kathryn Garcia last night on COVID's rise. The Governor is very engaged and we are formulating a response."